Republican Governor Scott Walker has proposed a new policy “to require future protesters to pay in advance to stage an event, at a cost of $50 per hour, per Capitol Police officer.” Not only would protesters be on the hook for that, but they would also possibly have to pay for liability insurance or bond and even the cost of cleanup following the protest, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
TBogg of Firedoglake already did a post on this for Firedoglake, but the idea that Gov. Scott Walker wants to charge Wisconsinites for protesting is one that deserves quite a bit of attention, especially given the presence of the Occupy movement right now.
The policy would require that any group of four or more people get a permit. Any group of more than 100 Wisconsinites would need to apply for a permit 72 hours in advance.
The proposal would be surprising if it weren’t for the fact that earlier this year Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced he would be charging $15/attendee to attend his town hall meetings. This announcement came months after Ryan had been booed for supporting tax breaks for the wealthy at a town hall in April.
Ryan was not the only congress person to choose to charge people that wanted to attend meetings to ask their representative questions. Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ) chose to charge $35/attendee at a lunch gathering. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN) held a private meeting in his district’s population and media center and charged $10/attendee.
Town hall meetings were where the country was seeing citizens confront their elected officials. It was where populist energy was appearing before the Occupy movement started. As Joe Macare of In These Times reacted, at least Walker is willing to issue permits. In Chicago, a NATO/G8 working group has been unable to get Mayor Rahm Emanuel to agree to issue permits for peaceful protests during NATO/G8 meetings that the city will be hosting in May 2012.
With the Occupy movement in full swing, the development fits in with the fixation on the cost cities and states are incurring from the protests. The latest example is Los Angeles, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s administration is arguing Occupy LA’s two-month long encampment could increase the $72 million budget shortfall of the city. As one Los Angeles city councilman put it, “I don’t know what kind of message we’re sending when we’re spending millions of dollars to support protesters…yet we charge these other organizations tens of thousands of dollars throughout the city for use of the same types of facilities.” And, Philadelphia, which raided Occupy Philly at the same time Occupy LA was being raided, is saying the occupation cost the city $1 million.
In November, AP reported the cost to taxpayers across the country totaled at least $13 million. They found the “heaviest financial burden has fallen upon law enforcement agencies tasked with monitoring marches and evicting protesters from outdoor camps. And the steepest costs by far piled up in New York City and Oakland, Calif., where police clashed with protesters on several occasions.”
I wrote about this AP report and how what was being reported could be used by political leaders across America to defame and undermine the Occupy movement. Suggesting to citizens of cities that an occupation is costing the city they live in so much that it is going to come out of their pocket is a very powerful way to cut off any movement at the kneecaps. Talk of deficits is what dominated conversation about the economy before Occupy Wall Street came along. And in a country that focuses on the individual, citizens will quickly turn against Occupy if they think they are having to foot the bill for a movement that they may already think doesn’t know what it wants and doesn’t have any leaders so it is likely to go nowhere (because that is what the media has told them).
This can be countered. Resources may be coming under strain because of the peaceful assembling of citizens but let’s consider what these resources are being used for. Sure, city officials are saying they are being spent for “public safety” and to “protect free speech rights,” but does that really make sense when police in riot gear are blitzkrieg-ing encampments setup to call attention to economic injustice and inequality in America?
Why should the New York Police Department (NYPD) be used to fortify Wall Street so casino capitalists who collapsed the economy in 2008 do not have to face protesting Americans? Why should the NYPD be used to mass a squadron of officers and police vehicles around any demonstration, which inevitably creates a crowd control issue that turns into a situation where NYPD officers beat or shove protesters and arrest those who do not budge when mistreated?
Why should taxpayers subsidize a massive police operation to evict peaceful protesters from a park when they have been there for nearly two months and have earned much support from New York City residents? Why should taxpayers have to foot the tab for police officers who improperly and coldly use pepper spray on protesters? Why should they have to pay for officers who fire off flash bang grenades in the midst of peaceful assemblies? Why should they have to pay for officers who slink back to avoid being spotted when they fire off a tear gas canister right at the head of an Iraq War veteran, who then goes to the hospital with a brain injury?
Why should they foot the bill for the pepper-spraying of an 84-year old woman, who becomes so disoriented from the spray that she has to be saved by an Iraq War veteran nearby who keeps her from falling over and being trampled? Why should taxpayers support the use of funds to violate freedom of the press by arresting journalists at demonstrations? Why should taxpayers pay for police officers that are going to brutalize pregnant women and give them a miscarriage? Why should taxpayers pay for police who stand around and seize and destroy property from citizens who are demonstrating, like books, tents, insulating materials, a food cart or even a truck?
I highlighted the Albany city police, which have refused to raid Occupy Albany and deploy the kind of resources to police a peaceful protest that other cities have spent on Occupy encampments. The Albany police chief decided more than a month ago that he was not going to expend an abundant about of resources when there is real crime in the city to fight.
The Albany police chief is an anomaly. Most chiefs in America would not hesitate to remove peaceful protesters from anywhere. If they don’t want to forcefully remove protesters, the chiefs would order officers to issue citations and fine protesters, like the police in Tucson, Arizona, have been doing to Occupy Tucson.
This is not happening necessarily because the powerful wish to crush dissent (though policies like Walker’s can have that impact). Pay-to-play protesting policies are the result of how politicians and even a number of citizens view protest in general. An overwhelming majority agrees citizens have a right to make a point. Sustained protest over a long term period, however, has much less support. That is why I don’t think Walker will be the last leader to propose such a policy. I expect cities, including cities with Democratic mayors that have ordered military-style police raids on encampments, to use the Occupy movement to sell regulations to citizens that are similar to Walker’s proposed policy.
The Occupy movement is challenging a more than four hundred year-old American culture that promotes the pursuit of affluence, that promotes hustling and Reaganism, which wholly detests community and living a life of restraint. What they are challenging and how committed they remain to challenging this culture increases the likelihood the political class will react with policies that constrain them.
True, Walker is reacting to protests that happened months ago but one can assume if Occupy wanted to protest they would suffer just like any unions will under this proposed policy. To the extent that elites are able to cast the Occupy movement as radical, or worse, ridiculous and childish, they will be able to justify implementing policies that constrain freedom of speech and assembly and make it so you have to be able to afford to pay for speech and assembly if you want to raise your voice and protest government.